First things first: The theme song of the week is SEC on CBS theme song by Lloyd Landesman.
Poll of the week: An ABC News/Washington Post poll finds that 38% of Democrats or independents who leaned towards the party consider themselves liberal, 39% consider themselves moderate and 17% consider themselves conservative.
While other polling suggests that the share of Democrats or independents who lean Democratic who call themselves liberal is greater, all polling suggests that self-identified liberals make up at most only about half of the party’s members.
What’s the point: The leading Democratic presidential candidates who have either declared or have formed an exploratory committee are among the most liberal in the caucus in recent years. Sens. Cory Booker, Kamala Harris, Kirsten Gillibrand and Elizabeth Warren have all voted with President Donald Trump less than 20% of the time. All of them are in the top 7 for anti-Trump voting records in the Senate.
The leftward tilt of the Democratic contenders is in no doubt because a higher percentage of Democrats consider themselves liberal than at any point in the last 20 years. As I previously noted, the time and the moment may be right for Democrats to nominate their most liberal candidate in a generation.
Yet, the ABC News/Washington Post poll and other data suggests that there is, in fact, a lane for someone to make a more moderate pitch in the primary. That is, a candidate who is still more liberal than the majority of Americans, but is somewhat closer to the political center and the average Democratic member of Congress.
In the 2018 midterm, 54% of all voters who cast a ballot for Democratic candidates called themselves either moderate or conservative.
Also, look at who was elected to Congress in the 2018 midterms. According to a tally from FiveThirtyEight’s Geoff Skelley, there are about an equal number of House members belonging to moderate or conservative caucuses as there are members of the Progressive Caucus.
Recent presidential primaries suggest too that a more mainstream candidate may have an opportunity to make a pitch. The liberal insurgent hasn’t won a recent Democratic primary. Bill Bradley lost to Al Gore in 2000. Howard Dean flamed out in 2004. John Edwards did not finding success in 2008. Bernie Sanders couldn’t put together a winning coalition in 2016.
On the other hand, Edwards and Sanders’ challenges to front-runners do, in some way, show the power of the left part of the party. Both forced the leading candidates (Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton in 2008 and Clinton again in 2016) to adopt more leftward positions.
Still, Clinton’s bid in 2016 may be a warning sign to Democratic voters right now. She was seen as more liberal than Donald Trump was seen as conservative. That is, it’s possible that Clinton lost in part because she was seen as holding views too far to the left for most voters.
Indeed, a recent Gallup poll suggests that Democrats may fear their 2020 presidential candidate being seen as too liberal. A majority (54%) of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents prefer to see the party become more moderate. Just 41% want the party to become more liberal. That was in contrast to Republicans who want their party to be seen as more conservative. As Megan Brenan of Gallup pointed out, “Looking ahead to the 2020 presidential campaign, Democrats overall may think that a move to the center might make their party’s presidential candidate more electable.”
None of this means, however, that a more moderate candidate will succeed on the Democratic side. What “moderate” means will differ to each voter. Additionally, primary voters don’t just make up their mind based on ideology. Other qualities such as race, gender, friendliness to the establishment and just plain old charisma will matter too.
But with a field that, for now, lacks a major Democrat in the center of the party (let alone center of the electorate at-large), a more moderate major Democrat has good reason to think he or she should make a run.